The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is expected to ditch using a stately home near Edinburgh in the wake of fierce controversy over its links with the illegal killing of birds of prey.
For the last three years RSPB Scotland has staged the Scottish Birdfair at Hopetoun House, on the Firth of Forth west of South Queensferry. It is an ancestral home that has been occupied by Lord Hopetoun and his family for more than three centuries.
But Lord Hopetoun owns the 11,000-acre Leadhills grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire, which has one of Scotland’s worst records for wildlife crime. Over 40 incidents have been reported there since 2003, including convictions for laying poisoned bait and shooting an owl.
RSPB’s use of Hopetoun House prompted a series of angry attacks from bird-lovers, some of who boycotted the Birdfair. The RSPB, however, defended Lord Hopetoun by pointing out that he did not condone illegal practices on his land and that there was a “clear separation” between Hopetoun House and Leadhills.
But now an activist website, Raptor Persecution Scotland, has reported that the RSPB is dropping Hopetoun House as the venue for next year’s Birdfair. Sources have also told the Sunday Herald that this is the case, pointing out that a three-year contract with Hopetoun has ended.
RSPB Scotland confirmed that it was reconsidering the venue for the Birdfair, but insisted it had not yet made a final decision. “We are indeed reviewing the location for the 2015 Scottish Birdfair and are deliberating over the future venue,” said the society’s head of species and land management, Duncan Orr Ewing. “We hope that we will be able to make an announcement shortly.”
He added: “RSPB Scotland has a long-standing and resolute commitment to tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland, which is detrimental to the populations of a number of species including golden eagles, hen harriers and red kites.”
Hopetoun House, which describes itself as “Scotland's finest stately home”, is owned by a charitable trust, of which Lord Hopetoun is a member. Formerly Andrew Hopetoun and an executive with the former defence electronics company GEC Marconi, he lives in the house and runs the estate.
Though he owns Leadhills, it has been on long-term lease to a sporting company registered in Delaware, USA, and the lease is now up for renewal. In the past Hopetoun has denied that he was responsible for the management of the estate, though this has been disputed by the land rights expert, Andy Wightman.
The RSPB’s change of heart has been welcomed by wildlife campaigners. “I’m delighted that RSPB Scotland has finally seen sense and cancelled Hopetoun House as the venue for the annual Scottish Birdfair,” said Ronnie Graham, a member of the Dumfries and Galloway Raptor Study Group who has campaigned against the use of Hopetoun House.
“The situation that developed with so many raptor workers and general birders boycotting this event has obviously made the venue untenable. The links between Hopetoun House and the notorious Leadhills grouse moor are incontrovertible.”
Keith Brockie, a wildlife artist in Aberfeldy who helped found the Scottish Raptor Study Group, withdrew from exhibiting at the Hopetoun Birdfair because of its relationship with Leadhills. “Hopefully the RSPB will choose a more credible location for future fairs,” he told the Sunday Herald.
A spokeswoman for Lord Hopetoun pointed out that the Birdfair had been successfully held at his home for the last three years. According to the RSPB, it had attracted between 4,000 and 6,000 people annually.
But she added: “We have yet to hear whether the organisation will be staging their event at Hopetoun in 2015.”